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Stolen things

A lesson learned in an unexpected way

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Lary is not allowed to have nice glasses at the Local anymore. Just for sitting next to him you'll get your wine served in a water cup, I swear, and Big Daniel has instructed the waitresses to keep count of those, even, because Lary is "out of control," he says. "He's stealing all my stuff."

I personally think all the glass-stealing started last April, when he showed up at the Local four hours late for his guest bartending shift only to set up camp next to the mechanical Jager dispenser like it was his own personal canteen. Since then, Lary has figured he pretty much owns the place, or acts like he does anyway, while the real owner, Big Daniel, is left to keep count of what's missing after Lary leaves.

And Lary insists he is accountable. He says he steals glasses from other bars and restaurants to replace the glasses he stole from the Local, and vice versa, so it all evens out. "I'm cross pollinating," he says, except that now all the other bars are in for some crappy glassware, because Big Daniel is onto Lary's shit, and it's probably just a matter of time before the other bars are as well, as Lary does not even try to be subtle.

I don't know why Lary steals, but I suspect he genuinely doesn't think people will miss what he takes. I myself stopped shoplifting at the age of 5, after the second time I got caught. I'd gone into the Thrifty drugstore and commenced to plucking earrings and other costume jewelry off the shelves and jamming them inside the folds of a rolled-up towel. But soon my bundle was so stuffed with stolen things it was the size of a mounted animal head and just as heavy, so it was inevitable, looking back, that a clerk would stop me.

He hiked up his trouser legs before kneeling down to look me in the eye. "Whatcha got rolled up in that towel?" he asked, and I immediately affected such a great imitation of autism that to this day I wonder if, you know, it might be real. The clerk wisely decided not to push it and simply pointed his finger at me sternly. "I'm going to tell your father," he said, and that was all he needed to say.

I had never seen that man before, but in my 5-year-old fake autism head, he very well could have hung out at the same bar my dad did every day, he could have been best buddies with my dad for all I knew, belting back dozens of beers in glasses that would probably stay unstolen. Maybe he had seen me in there playing air hockey with my sisters, maybe my dad had hooked his thumb in my direction and pointed me out to the guy, and now here I was in his store stealing things.

I lived a mile away and ran the whole way home, dropping my shoplifted bootie along the way. I looked back and saw a pair of florescent go-go earrings in the gutter with the tag still attached, winking at me in the distance like two hot-pink turds. But I turned around and ploughed ahead. There was supposed to be a shortcut through the woods, but I had never not gotten lost when I tried to take it, and this time was no exception. I couldn't even backtrack to follow the trail of price tags I'd left in my wake because, believe me, new stuff laying around on the ground unclaimed doesn't stay that way for long.

So I simply hurled myself onto a hillock and lay there unclaimed myself, praying to a God I only knew from what my brother had told me one day when he pointed to the sky and said, "See that giant eye? That's God." I did not see an eye, but I did see some storm clouds with an opening in them that was eyelike. So I lay there praying to this eyelike opening whose memory, because it was a clear day, I had to muster in my 5-year-old fake-autism head.

I prayed that my father would never find out that I had stolen things, because even though my mother was a major klepto and our house was full of stolen things, I knew my father drowned in his anguish over his own limits every day and wished better for me. I swore to the eyelike opening that I'd never steal again if only my father never discovered I'd stolen at all.

When I finally walked through the door of our house, my dad was in the kitchen making a cake -- a cake -- and to this day I believe I blew my wad with God on that first go, because when my father turned toward me, I thought he was gonna beat me with the lid of the tin flour canister -- because God knew he beat us with that thing so many times it was now so dented it could hardly serve its normal purpose. But instead, my father, who had not yet had that many beers, hiked his trouser legs up just like the Thrifty store clerk had done, knelt down and hugged me hello. I'll always be grateful to God for that hug, as well as those stolen moments in the kitchen afterward, when I thought my father would kill me and he baked me a cake instead.

hollis.Gillespie@creativeloafing.com


Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood, published by Harper Collins. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at www.atlanta.creativeloafing.com.

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